The discourse of power, privilege and social change

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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15 November 2018 05:08
 

Per recent discussion (found here), there are no voiceless, invisible groups that are “never represented”, that “nobody” hears and “nobody” sees.  The public space has been transformed, and the discourse of power is changing to accommodate it. 

Sure, any given individual, no matter what race, class, or gender, can suffer unfair adversity unheard and unbeknownst to society-at-large, where ‘no one really cares’—whatever “caring” or being acknowledged by “society-at-large” even means.  That’s just the knocks of life living in a group of 320 million odd.  That’s hardly interesting, much less relevant to how power in society is structured.  But the discourse of the public sphere has changed such that as a group all races, classes, and genders now have a voice, and these voices are heard.  Not necessary by those who can directly bring about social change, i.e. legislators.  Not even necessarily in the ears of society-at-large (again, whatever that means, which in any case is exceedingly rare, if even extant).  But always in someone’s ears, in someone’s ears who cares.  With the exponential growth of our connected informational nervous system, and with the never ending demand for content in the 24-hour news cycle, the plight of all races, classes and genders is endemic to the public space.  Individuals may suffer in invisible silence, but groups do not.  The public discourse now includes robust discussion of what all disadvantaged or disenfranchised groups suffer, how they suffer, and to a lesser extent (alas) what to do about it.  And the discourse of power is changing to accommodate this transformation.  The issues that affect these groups are now front and center in political discussion, not to mention the discussion at the heart of public life.

It was not always this way.  Just two generations ago, the poverty of Appalachia, for instance, was almost entirely unknown to the rest of the country, until field journalists, photographers, and documentarians brought that silent suffering to life (in 1964, Life magazine ran an issue on it).  Since then, as our informational nervous system has connected media outlets ravenous for controversial or otherwise news-worthy information, coverage of the maltreated and disadvantaged has filled a public space that craves ever new stories of struggle, adversity, and all too often, grief.  In any case, these stories are abundant now, and now, paradoxically, it’s almost impossible for disadvantaged groups to suffer in invisible silence, as much as some individuals probably just want to be left alone, out of the limelight.  Especially since the 90’s news about the working poor, about working immigrants, about blacks, about gays and lesbians—any disadvantaged group you care to name—fills the public space and is consumed by activists who are increasingly heard by legislators.  The criminal justice reform about to pass is an example.  The Florida ballot initiative restoring voting rights of felons is another.  #MeToo movement over sexual harassment and the civic responses in cities and companies to anti-transgender legislation is yet another.  And Papa John was kicked out of his own company, and Rosanne Barr lost her show.  In today’s society it is nothing short of ludicrous to say the voices of the disadvantaged are unheard or silent, that nobody listens and nobody hears.  Instead, these voices are loud as hell, and virtually everyone—if the “Internet” is everyone—is listening.

Along with this increasing vocalization of social injustice and economic disadvantage over the course of two generations, an entire helping profession devoted to hearing those voices has evolved, one devoted to hearing groups in our society that just a generation or two ago may in fact have been invisible and silent.  Self-identified social workers are 850,000 strong, and those with formal academic training in the profession stand at 650,000.  The mission statement of every social work program in the United States includes social justice, and this drive for social justice has always focused on the disadvantaged, the mistreated, and the disenfranchised.  When everyone else is deaf—a virtually unheard of event in our almost obnoxiously vocal society—social workers listen, social workers advocate, and social workers bring about positive change.  Eight hundred and fifty thousand may only be a drop in the bucket of a society as large as ours, but even if the rest of society were indifferent (which it is not), these hundreds of thousands are there to listen, to represent, and to help.  No matter how you parse it—whether at the level of law, of governance, or the helping professions—there is always an ear for virtually any form of social injustice and social suffering.  And these injustices are sought out, not just waited for.  What’s more, with the interconnected media outlets from GoFundMe to #MeToo, it’s becoming more and more a infrequent event that something isn’t done, somewhere, by someone.  The question now is just how to get a muscular system, as it were, to correspond to our exponentially more sensitive informational nervous system.  How do we build a responsive social body to the address the needs for social change our exponentially sensitive nervous systems makes evident?  How do we harness the mechanisms of power to bring about social justice where previously it has done the opposite?

Enter here the empiricists who need to replace the cultural left, i.e. those who speak an outdated language (if it ever was even dated) of power and privilege for posing and solving social problems.  Instead of this defunct discourse coming from English and literary theory departments (the likes of Peggy McIntosh and Frederic Jameson, for instance), we need workers with boots on the ground trained in the social sciences formulating problems using plain, everyday terms and devising solutions based on empirical, not ideological, assessment.  We see such contrasts here on this forum, and increasingly we see it in field work itself, where practitioners over the last two decades have been turning the tools of empirical analysis onto the problems of race, class, and gender.  As it happens, my profession is well behind this curve, as devoted as it is to helping members of disadvantaged groups.  Instead of working empiricism, its still is caught up in that defunct discourse of power and privilege that poses, much less solves, no worthwhile problems.  It’s ideologically, not scientifically, driven.  But even that is changing as social workers in some departments catch up to the rest of the curve, and there is plenty of work to draw from.  Work that gets distorted by the popular press to service an ideological agenda.  Work that is cumulatively building on its own efforts to formulate problems and devise solutions.  Work that is out there if one wants to look for it, as anyone committed to these issues should.  It’s work that needs to be done if we are going to build a social body as responsive to social change as our informational nervous system indicates.

So, that’s my bit on social power, unheard voices, and social change.  Change is in the wind.  The old guard of the cultural left is reluctantly (and vocally) fading into irrelevance.  A new generation of empirically informed, civically minded workers is emerging, and it is up to us from the last generation to see that this emergence prospers; that it is not drowned out by the sanctimony of self-anointed guardians.  In my own way I will contribute to this emergence (hopefully) as I teach this new generation as an adjunct faculty (finger’s crossed).  But either way, this emergence is probably going to happen, and it needs to.  It needs to happen because social problems persist, and the best tool for solving them is empirical, scientific knowledge, not an ideologically-driven discourse of power and privilege crafted by English professors, literary theorists, and post-modern philosophers.  In any case, it’s the basket into which I’m committed to putting my eggs, and it’s the one I’ll hopefully inflict—with plenty of room for differences, of course—on unsuspecting students who would otherwise get no such exposure, as saturated as their education will be with sterile, ideological trafficking in concepts like “white privilege,” “the matrix of domination,”, “intersectionality” and what not.  Given the persistence of these problems, something needs to change, and the best first place to start is the very way we approach and formulate them.

[ Edited: 15 November 2018 10:10 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
bbearren
 
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bbearren
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15 November 2018 09:25
 
 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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16 November 2018 04:53
 
bbearren - 15 November 2018 09:25 AM

What Is White Privilege, Really?

Confronting the White Elephant: White Privilege in Social Services

White Privilege and Benefits

Yes, white ‘privilege’ is still the problem

Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person…

 

Since this admonishment was recently applied to me….

When you think something is a waste of time please feel free to ignore it, from time to time, so others can play through.  Move onto something else that better strikes your fancy.

...I’ll re-apply it here.  Consider it re-applied indefinitely.

 

 
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16 November 2018 07:32
 
 
 
LadyJane
 
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LadyJane
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16 November 2018 09:14
 

Just to curtail any confusion regarding another cross threaded quote…

It applies to disregarding the content of something as a waste of time.  That is a matter of perception and to be decided on an individual basis.  There’s a difference between interest and disagreement.  When a patron provides links that are relevant to the topic it indicates an interest in the material.

Game on.

 
 
icehorse
 
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17 November 2018 09:37
 

The OP brings up all sorts of thoughts. In no particular order:

- The problem of deliberate misinformation in our new connected age.
- Picking your battles, e.g. should social change initiatives be suspended until we defang the oligarchy, address climate change, and end poverty? (Or not?)
- The issue that real social problems are being addressed with bad solutions, e.g. intersectionality theory, the rejection of expertise and critical thinking
- The fact that the 2018 elections roused only 47% of possible voters, and that was a recent record.
- All of the “sins of the father” issues at play in social change.

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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18 November 2018 03:02
 
icehorse - 17 November 2018 09:37 AM

The OP brings up all sorts of thoughts. In no particular order:

- The problem of deliberate misinformation in our new connected age.
- Picking your battles, e.g. should social change initiatives be suspended until we defang the oligarchy, address climate change, and end poverty? (Or not?)
- The issue that real social problems are being addressed with bad solutions, e.g. intersectionality theory, the rejection of expertise and critical thinking
- The fact that the 2018 elections roused only 47% of possible voters, and that was a recent record.
- All of the “sins of the father” issues at play in social change.

Hey icehorse.  I am not sure how to connect your thoughts to the OP, but I will try.

First, I would say the problem of deliberate misinformation is what we see in sources like Fox News and other right wing media outlets, where racial stereotypes and misleading framing either makes it looks like minorities are an especial problem, or that discrimination against them doesn’t exist, therefore there is no need to take any kind of action on their behalf.  This kind of negative advocacy can act as a powerful force against change, especially in an interconnected informational nervous system.  As for how to combat this negative effect, I have no idea.  But it does have an effect, and it needs to be counteracted.

I can’t think of anything for the oligarchy, the mid-terms, or the “sins of the father,” but I think I’ve sort of covered ‘real social problems being addressed with bad solutions’ in my recent reply to diding in the “white privilege” thread, where he asked about the negative effects of that notion versus the positive benefits of rights.  Those two alternative approaches—privileged/oppressed versus insured/not insured rights—to a social problem (real racial inequalities) is discussed there. 

(P.S. I’m going to be gone again for a week after today, and not around much in the week following, so if you reply and I don’t get back, that’s why.  This bout of free time is, alas, coming to an end.)

 

[ Edited: 18 November 2018 03:17 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
icehorse
 
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18 November 2018 07:31
 

Also from TAP’s OP:

The question now is just how to get a muscular system, as it were, to correspond to our exponentially more sensitive informational nervous system.  How do we build a responsive social body to the address the needs for social change our exponentially sensitive nervous systems makes evident?  How do we harness the mechanisms of power to bring about social justice where previously it has done the opposite?

And in the last post:

I can’t think of anything for the oligarchy, the mid-terms, or the “sins of the father,”

I’ll try to connect some dots, although I might be misunderstanding your direction here:

Disclaimer: SJWs might dismiss my entire response here as invalid, since they would consider me to be guilty by identity. (sins of the father have convicted me)

First off, if we take a slightly longer view, our society IS making steady progress towards being socially just. We’re not there, but we’ve made great strides in the last 150 years. Next, I would say that when you have a huge problem to fix, you MUST protect your tools. You lose your tools, you’re sunk. The tools we have are democracy, our environmental and economic health, and our civil liberties. We lose those, and we’re sunk. So, while I support the goal of social justice, it must take a back seat to those problems that threaten our tools. IMO, we must defang the oligarchy as a first priority. We must save our environment as a first priority.

As for the midterms, unless the SJWs really want violent revolution and anarchy, one of their most potent weapons is our democracy. Is it fair to say that folks in Bernie Sanders’s camp (Cortez and so on), are some of the most SJW-aligned politicians in DC? I’d say so, and I’d say that while their intentions seem good, they’re either ignorant of our most urgent problems, or they’re being disingenuous.

As for our new hyped-up social nervous system, I’d agree that it exists, and I think until we learn how to help it relax, it’s just another problem. Big changes take time. You cannot turn an moving oil tanker on a dime.

 

 
 
Jefe
 
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18 November 2018 09:10
 

You’ve considered me within the SJW sphere before, so I’ll bite.

icehorse - 18 November 2018 07:31 AM

First off, if we take a slightly longer view, our society IS making steady progress towards being socially just. We’re not there, but we’ve made great strides in the last 150 years.

I tend to agree.  Overall, we’re getting less violent and quality of life is rising for many.  But there are pockets where this is not happening.

icehorse - 18 November 2018 07:31 AM

Next, I would say that when you have a huge problem to fix, you MUST protect your tools. You lose your tools, you’re sunk. The tools we have are democracy, our environmental and economic health, and our civil liberties. We lose those, and we’re sunk. So, while I support the goal of social justice, it must take a back seat to those problems that threaten our tools.

I also tend to agree.  I think we may have other tools in our toolbox too, but these are a good start. 
Democracy without social support can be quite cruel though. 
I think pure democracy can lead to the tyranny of the majority if it is not supported/controlled by balancing regulatory, judiciary, and media stoppers. (And the electoral college and gerrymandered districts and ‘first-past-the-post’ politics can lead to false majorities, for that matter)  Further, I think the US is in dire need of lobby reform, campaign finance reform, and needs to back away from Corporate Entities with rights. ESPECIALLY recent statutes that decrease the ability of ‘workers’ to take their employer to task if the employer does ‘wrong’ by their workers. (These last items being moves against the oligarchy, as it were…)

Economic health is sort of a wavering affair.  I wouldn’t say that the US is challenged in that regard, because it is currently exaggerating the value of wealth and the corporation over the welfare of the individual and the smaller entrepreneur.  Mega-corps like Walmart have been allowed to edge out the entrepreneur and cheapen the value of those who would do the jobs those entrepreneurs used to create and work.  I think, IMO, there is work to be done in that regard.

Environmental health, in the US, is a bit of a joke at this point.  The current administration does not seem to consider this a high priority item. Flint, Michigan and many other communities still don’t have potable water.

US Civil liberties also seem to differ by region, religion, and heritage IMHO, and require much more work.

icehorse - 18 November 2018 07:31 AM

IMO, we must defang the oligarchy as a first priority. We must save our environment as a first priority.

I don’t disagree.  I would like some of your ideas as to how the oligarchy can even be targetted in the current political climate.  And the environment, I guess, with the current administration.  I also think we should not let harms slide or increase if we concentrate too heavily on ‘first priority’ issues - your prioritization used as reference here. I’ve talked about this before - those suffering harm from (your ratings) lower priority issues, might not place their issues on the same scale as you do.

Also, don’t forget that Ocasio-Cortez is your ally WRT climate change.

icehorse - 18 November 2018 07:31 AM

As for the midterms, unless the SJWs really want violent revolution and anarchy, one of their most potent weapons is our democracy. Is it fair to say that folks in Bernie Sanders’s camp (Cortez and so on), are some of the most SJW-aligned politicians in DC? I’d say so, and I’d say that while their intentions seem good, they’re either ignorant of our most urgent problems, or they’re being disingenuous.

See my comment above about different prioritizations. Sanders/Cortez: Universal single payer health care would also be a plug at the oligarchy.
How many of ‘them’ do you think benefit from privatized health insurance? It would also relieve the potential for individuals to suffer from unexpected and unrecoverable poverty due to an illness or injury that is ‘no fault of one’s own’. Like accidentally drinking flint-water?

icehorse - 18 November 2018 07:31 AM

As for our new hyped-up social nervous system, I’d agree that it exists, and I think until we learn how to help it relax, it’s just another problem. Big changes take time. You cannot turn an moving oil tanker on a dime.

Different priorities?  Or just dismissal of others’ ideas?
The ‘new hyped-up social nervous system’ is also voices within the democracy.  Both those on the right and those on the left.

[ Edited: 18 November 2018 09:27 by Jefe]
 
 
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18 November 2018 09:47
 

Jefe, it seems we’re mostly aligned. I think that Sanders and Cortez and Warren are basically well intended. I suspect they’re less corrupt as well, I hope so.

Jefe said:

Different priorities?  Or just dismissal of others’ ideas?
The ‘new hyped-up social nervous system’ is also voices within the democracy.  Both those on the right and those on the left.

I fI understand you correctly, my next point is where I suspect I’ll get the most push-back:

I’m not dismissing the issues that SJWs bring up. I just think that they fall into the “rearranging chairs on the Titanic” category. Yes, I’m guilty of being a straight, white male, but I’ll reiterate that if we lose our tools, all is lost.

My guess is that many SJWs disagree with my priorities. I suspect those folks haven’t really thought through the “tools” orientation. Although I’m pretty sure you have, and you largely agree.

 
 
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18 November 2018 10:22
 
icehorse - 18 November 2018 09:47 AM

I’m not dismissing the issues that SJWs bring up. I just think that they fall into the “rearranging chairs on the Titanic” category.

When one is dying, or in unrecoverable poverty, because their deck-chair is in the wrong location, it’s hard to look past that suffering to other issues.  When one’s deck-chair can’t get moved to a better location than the ‘left-handers-only’ section, then issues on the horizon may be too inaccessible to matter much in the immediate moment.  Remember that, Titanic having insufficient life boats, that it was the upper class folks who had the best chance of getting off the sinking ship - deck chair arrangement being stacked in their favour (as usual) in this case.

In the case of climate change (and wealth) it is the poorest who will suffer the most, while those with means drink their bottled fiji water on their yachts.

icehorse - 18 November 2018 09:47 AM

Yes, I’m guilty of being a straight, white male, but I’ll reiterate that if we lose our tools, all is lost.

I’m also a straight, white, male (with a luxurious viking-beard, no less) - but I recognize that those attributes come with privilege attached, and that others may struggle more than I do simply because they are not - regardless of the tools at hand.

 
 
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20 November 2018 13:05
 

I find my heart mainly on the left on these issues but I often have to disassociate with particular institutions and movements because I cannot come to an accord on strategy, consistency and cooperation. .

Conversely I have almost no sympathy for most of the agenda on the right but what I can appreciation is their better organization,better cohesion and frequently better work ethic when it comes to realizing political goals.

I suppose it’s incumbent upon me to take up the organization and propagation of efforts that cross this gap.

 
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22 November 2018 16:36
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 15 November 2018 05:08 AM

The question now is just how to get a muscular system, as it were, to correspond to our exponentially more sensitive informational nervous system.  How do we build a responsive social body to the address the needs for social change our exponentially sensitive nervous systems makes evident?  How do we harness the mechanisms of power to bring about social justice where previously it has done the opposite?

If there’s so much good that can be done which isn’t government funded, which won’t be government funded (politically infeasible), or won’t be government funded without going against the moral conscience of half the electorate, then the government simply has control over too much of our money.  I don’t see what other possible conclusion there is to draw…...

I mean, what is your null hypothesis that the government should control this level of our money?  How would you ever know whether or not they control too much of it?

If we can agree the government controls too much money, then we as Americans can actually see who has the better plans…..because we can actually fund that which we want.  To me, maintaining the political financial status quo (by allowing them to control as much money as they do) is only a winning strategy if you’re attached to the incentive structure (in which case, you’re part of the problem).

Let the people decide what “social justice” programs they think are the best at creating the change they want…...with their own money.  This bloated incentive structure which controls which programs get funding and which ones don’t creates many problems, but probably the biggest is that we never get definitive answers about what works.  It’s always “IF the Republicans could do this or IF the Democrats could do this”.....this keeps the solutions to things like poverty/racism/social cohesion in the abstract realm, where it is only mediated by the biases of the people involved.  What a waste of time…..that is the biggest casualty of our current system.

 
 
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05 December 2018 15:19
 
Quadrewple - 22 November 2018 04:36 PM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 15 November 2018 05:08 AM

The question now is just how to get a muscular system, as it were, to correspond to our exponentially more sensitive informational nervous system.  How do we build a responsive social body to the address the needs for social change our exponentially sensitive nervous systems makes evident?  How do we harness the mechanisms of power to bring about social justice where previously it has done the opposite?

If there’s so much good that can be done which isn’t government funded, which won’t be government funded (politically infeasible), or won’t be government funded without going against the moral conscience of half the electorate, then the government simply has control over too much of our money.  I don’t see what other possible conclusion there is to draw…...

I mean, what is your null hypothesis that the government should control this level of our money?  How would you ever know whether or not they control too much of it?

If we can agree the government controls too much money, then we as Americans can actually see who has the better plans…..because we can actually fund that which we want.  To me, maintaining the political financial status quo (by allowing them to control as much money as they do) is only a winning strategy if you’re attached to the incentive structure (in which case, you’re part of the problem).

Let the people decide what “social justice” programs they think are the best at creating the change they want…...with their own money.  This bloated incentive structure which controls which programs get funding and which ones don’t creates many problems, but probably the biggest is that we never get definitive answers about what works.  It’s always “IF the Republicans could do this or IF the Democrats could do this”.....this keeps the solutions to things like poverty/racism/social cohesion in the abstract realm, where it is only mediated by the biases of the people involved.  What a waste of time…..that is the biggest casualty of our current system.

I’m a bit lost by your reply.  This muscular system by no means has to be the government controlling the purse strings of taxation, and then acting to further social policies.  Responsiveness to social injustices and inequities can occur though informal cultural norms, judicial decisions in common law, legislation by government bodies, internal corporate policy, non-profit outreaches—I’m not picky.  Anything that addresses social injustices and inequities that falls on this side of morality will work for me.  So where you say” Let the people decide what “social justice” programs they think are the best at creating the change they want…...with their own money”—exactly so, and hopefully even when money isn’t directly at stake or has anything to do with the problem.  If I implied any other position in the OP, I withdraw the implication here.

 
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06 January 2019 03:43
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 15 November 2018 05:08 AM

Per recent discussion (found here), there are no voiceless, invisible groups that are “never represented”, that “nobody” hears and “nobody” sees.  The public space has been transformed, and the discourse of power is changing to accommodate it.  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Given the persistence of these problems, something needs to change, and the best first place to start is the very way we approach and formulate them.

The best thing I’ve stumbled across on any forum for a long, long time. It will take me some time to digest however . I wish I’d put that together given 99% I’ve been trying to say for a long time, especially the notion no particular ideology can solve the many problems we as a species face. I am however left wondering if any of us are ever free of ideological convictions of some kind or other.